Just seven months after it came into force, die Noord-Ierland protocol is proving once again a significant flashpoint in the UK’s relations with Dublin and Brussels.
On Wednesday the UK will publish a “command paper” on the protocol. Some will see it as an attempt to tear up the agreement Boris Johnson struck in 2019, others will see it as a serious attempt to fix a deal that was flawed from the beginning but was signed because it helped the British prime minister to get Brexit done, as he had promised.
The EU and UK recently agreed to extend talks over the implementation of the protocol until 30 September. This is the Brexit minister David Frost’s attempt to set the agenda before a summer of talks. Lord Frost and the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, are expected to lay the blame for the dispute at the EU’s door and argue for the removal of trade barriers and the role of the European court of justice. As one source on the opposition benches said: “It is further away from resolution than ever.”
Honesty boxes have had mixed success in business – the band Radiohead tried it in 2007, allowing fans to decide how much to pay for their latest release, but never returned to the concept.
In Brexi jare, the notion first surfaced in 2019 as part of an alternative to the Irish border backstop. It would have done away with the need for border checks, allowing businesses to self-report the movement of goods with an online system for VAT payments. This is now being resurfaced, according to reports. Egter, it would only be possible if the eroded trust between the UK and EU is restored.
First and foremost, food and supermarket supplies. The UK government recently warned that the protocol could force retailers to switch from British suppliers to EU suppliers. In a letter to the UK government and the European Commission, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Iceland and Marks & Spencer warned that disruption to supplies would be “inevitable” if the “regime that will come into force in October is unrealistic and disproportionately onerous”.
The UK wants barriers to be eliminated through a combination of a veterinary deal based on Brussels recognising (again with trust involved) that the UK operates equivalent standards. The EU has resisted this so far but Frost told MPs this week the bloc was beginning to look at this idea, which he said was “very good”.
“The only way it [the protocal] can be made sustainable is if we could find a way to either hugely reduce or eliminate the barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland," hy het gesê.
The UK will also be looking for a workaround on the “rules of origin” barriers.
Stephen Kelly, the chief executive of the Manufacturing NI trade body, gave the example of a German automotive parts firm that supplies axles to Northern Ireland. Egter, the parts are at risk of attracting tariffs because they were sent to England first for modification for use in British vehicles. Under the rules they would be treated as British goods rather than EU. The UK wants this issue to be eliminated by allowing EU goods circulating in Great Britain to be free from tariffs if they are sold on to Northern Ireland.
Frost has repeatedly said the UK reserves the right to suspend part of the protocol by using article 16. But he has also said an agreed solution is preferable. “Given the delicacy of the situation in NI … we think it is right for us to proceed in the most … responsible and predictable way that we can in order to bring the most possible people with us,” he told MPs.